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Signs of Foundation Problems

Your home’s structural integrity depends on the strength of your foundation. It supports everything else – walls, windows, floors, doorways, roof – so when your foundation is damaged, it can cause serious problems throughout your home.

Like most things in life, your foundation is subject to environmental stress. Expanding and contracting soil, excessive moisture and inadequate drainage are some of the most common threats to your home’s foundation. Over time, environmental stressors can cause a foundation to shift, crack or settle unevenly. And homeowners often miss early warning signs of foundation damage.

Foundation problems can create several issues throughout the home. Foundation problems are rarely invisible, but signs of foundation problems need to be recognized to correct problems quickly. Sometimes the signs are more obvious—cracks in plaster walls, a basement wall crack that extends from floor to ceiling or a wet crawl space every time any amount of precipitation falls. However, sometimes signs of foundation problems are not immediately associated with foundation damage.

Most foundation issues begin with the soil under and surrounding the home. Every building foundation is affected by the soil underneath and around it. It shifts continuously and sometimes results in foundation damage. Signs of foundation problems often can be found in all rooms of the home.

How to Identify the Issue

Foundation Inspector

To identify foundation problems, start in the basement or crawl space. Is there a musty odor? A leaking basement or crawl space can reveal foundation cracks and a musty basement smell or crawl space odor is a red flag.  Excess moisture invites insects to enter, and insects in a basements or crawl spaces often point to foundation issues.

Inspect each room of the house. Carefully look at the walls, in particular where the wall meets the ceiling. House or slab foundation problems can cause walls to separate from the ceiling. Other warning signs include cracks splintering up the walls, any wall that is bowing outward or molding, and baseboards that are separating from their mitered corners.

Simply put, the movement and shifting of the soil underneath your home is often the root of foundation problems. Signs and symptoms of these problems include:

Basement/crawl space moisture: A wet, leaking basement or crawl space moisture can contribute to several home issues including musty smells, mold growth and sagging, uneven floors throughout the house. Water and moisture seep in through foundation cracks.

Bugs in the basement: Bugs such as centipedes, pill bugs, silverfish, earwigs, carpenter ants and roaches are drawn to wet basements and often enter through cracks in the foundation.

Uneven and sagging floors: Warped or sagging flooring can be related directly to foundation problems. Shifting soil, humidity from water seepage and inadequate foundation waterproofing can contribute to flooring issues.

Cracked and bowed walls: Cracks and bowing in walls can be fixed. However, there is often an underlying issue – soil movement under the foundation, hydrostatic pressure and poor water drainage are three common culprits.

Crooked doors: When a foundation settles, cracks or shifts, problems such as crooked doors develop in the house. Like flooring and wall issues, crooked doors may occur because of moisture issues in the basement or crawl space.

Cracked chimney
: Poor exterior drainage or expanding soil can cause foundations to crack and settle, resulting in a tilting or cracked chimney. Pilings can be installed to reinforce an unstable chimney.

Standing water under house: Rainwater must divert away from the house via gutters, properly directed downspouts and drainage systems. Improper drainage often causes water to collect under the house, resulting in foundation problems.

How to Spot Signs of Foundation Problems

What Causes Foundation Damage?

Often in the spring and summer, outdoor humidity levels rise and may be blamed for the swelling of woodwork within the home. This includes window frames, cabinetry and doors. However, cracks in the foundation also allow moisture and humidity into the home. The moisture from leaky basements or damp crawl spaces can cause the windows, doors and cabinets to not close or open correctly.

Foundation problems also can cause tiles to crack and hardwood flooring to buckle and warp. Warped hardwood floors, especially in a home set on a slab foundation, can be a sign that something is wrong with the concrete foundation.
US Clay Soil Map
In addition to expansive soil, many homes’ foundations are adversely affected by the following problems:

Improper drainage: The most common sign of poor drainage is water pooling and forming swampy areas near a home’s foundation; another indication is a damp or leaky basement. Poor drainage can occur as a result of clogged or damaged gutters, or because the land surrounding a home isn’t properly graded away from the structure. 

Water leaks under the slab: Slab foundations conceal sewer lines and water pipes; when a leak develops in hidden line, it can cause the slab to deteriorate. This type of problem may cause moist areas in interior floors, or homeowners may notice a sudden spike in their water bills – but more often than not a slab leak will go unnoticed. Leak isolation testing is the preferred method for detecting slab leaks.

Tree root intrusions: Large trees can cause foundation problems as roots grow through the soil underneath the home. The intruding roots can exert significant pressure on under-slab water pipes and basement foundations. They can also leech moisture from the ground, causing soil to contract away from the home.

A foundation inspection by a qualified repair specialist can be the best way to determine if the signs indicate foundation troubles.

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